When authorities of the Department of Development Control of Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) marked over 800 houses for demolition in Gwarimpa, Dorothy Dalhatu Haruna thought it was one of such government moves that would not be implemented.
The demolition notice did not stop her from making plans for the Christmas celebration. Seven days after the markings, she was surprised to see heavy equipment outside the place she had called home for over seven years, “Then I ran to get whatsoever I could before they demolish the house,” she said adding that the demolition put an end to her Christmas plans.
Dorothy’s residence, a one-bedroom apartment, was one of the 15 permanent illegal structures demolished by the government.
Government officials also demolished worship places, some of which they said also served as residential buildings and shanties on the about three kilometres stretch of the road from Third Avenue to First Avenue in Gwarimpa. More than 700 shanties were affected.
The demolition exercise took place beside the Gwarimpa office of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) on Pa Michael Imoudu Avenue, Third Avenue. It ended at the Holy Cross Catholic Church, on First Avenue.
Dorothy was one of the over 1,000 residents affected by the exercise. Government officials said the demolition was to give way for the construction of N16 road. The road, when constructed, would pass through Third Avenue, Gwarimpa through Gishiri village to NICON Junction, Maitama.
The Director, Department of Development Control for FCTA, Muktar Galadima said, “There are encroachments on this arterial road and we have a directive from the Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, to remove them before people will begin to claim its right of ownership.”
While the government works on plans for the construction of the road, affected residents said they celebrated Christmas in a bad mood, homeless due to the demolition.
“I stayed here during Christmas. I only went to church and returned here. I was just looking at everything,” she said. Dorothy cooked and ate her ‘Christmas food’ alone in a small portion she carved out of the ruins. Nobody could pay her a visit and her earlier plans of visiting friends at Karmo and other locations were cancelled. “If someone had said I would celebrate Christmas homeless, I would have denied,” Dorothy said.
She said a demolition exercise forced her family to relocate to Jos, “We were staying at Kado Bimko in 2013 when our house was demolished; we slept outside for more than one month before we got a temporary place to stay. After that my husband and children moved to Jos in 2014,” she said.
Dorothy who sells pepper soup and rice in the area said she had no plan of leaving the place, “this place dey okay,” she said in Pidgin English. She said she knew that the land was meant for a road but had thought it would take time before the government began the construction.
“They had been marking our houses for several times. So when they came on 12 December, we thought it was one of those exercises not knowing that this one will come to pass. There are more than 10 one-bedroom apartments in the building that I was staying,” she said adding that more than 100 houses, mostly occupied by police officers, were built on a small portion of the land.
Dorothy, who said her brother owned the house she stayed, added they were not compensated nor were they expecting to be compensated. She said most of the occupants knew they were staying illegally but had only prayed that the government would take time before developing the land. She said an amala joint, churches and a structure built by a widow in December were also affected.
“You see those new blocks beside the fence, that was where she (the widow) built her house before it was demolished,” she said while pointing to rubble beside a fence.
“This place is very good. I do my business here without hitches; there is constant power and regular water supply. So people love it here,” she said explaining why she chose to be in Gwarimpa.
On her next move, “I am not going anywhere. This is where I do my business and I will remain here. I have been sleeping outside since my house was demolished and I will remain outside,” she said though she planned to move some of her belongings to Dutsen Alhaji.
While Dorothy has decided on sleeping outside until she reconstructs a part of the demolished structure, Mr James Okoro had built another structure. Mr Okoro, who watched the one-room given to him by a relative being pulled down, said he would stay in the new building as he makes better relocation plans.
Mr Okoro was mixing cement, sand, and water to work on his ‘new’ structure, which he put together by using remains of aluminum roofing sheets from the demolition. The new building, he said, would serve as shelter for his wife and five children.
“I plan to leave here entirely but I want to put up a place to stay for the next three months,” he said. He said though his continued stay was in defiance to the government regulations, he enjoyed residing in Gwarimpa.
“I travelled last week and I returned at midnight. I just walked into my house without fear. The main thing is access; from here you can easily go to other places with ease. There is water and constant power supply. This place is secured because police officers are staying here.” he said while describing the place before the demolition exercise.
Some residents called the illegal residence, which is a few minutes walk from the Gwarimpa Divisional Police Headquarters, Police Quarters due to the high number of police officers in the area.
Mr Okoro, a businessman, who had stayed in the area for about one year plans to stay within the place until he makes other plans.
But Auwal Bishir had made up his mind on his next move, “I am going to Katsina,” he told Daily Trust Saturday.
Bishir, who operated a recharge card, SIM cards, and phone accessories business from a kiosk in the area, said he made up his mind to return to Katsina due to hardship.
He hopes to sell the kiosk, which he saved from demolition by moving it inside the FHA office, to raise his transport fare.
The Director, Development Control Department in the Federal Capital Territory Administration, Muktar Galadima, said the government is undeterred in maintaining sanity in the nation’s capital. He told newsmen in Abuja that 1,258 shanties were pulled down in 2019. The number could rise if the government continues its demolition exercise before the end of the year, including the planned demolition of shanties in Kubwa, Apo, and Gudu.